New Broadband Forum specs allow ISPs to begin tapping 5G capabilities

The Broadband Forum wrapped Phase II of its wireless-wireline convergence (WWC) effort, unveiling new specifications which will allow legacy residential wireline gateways to take advantage of certain 5G capabilities.

Its latest work builds on Phase I specifications completed in 2020 and includes two key updates: multi-access support for 5G residential gateways (5G-RGs) and multi-session enablement for fixed network residential gateways (FN-RGs).

Deutsche Telekom’s Manuel Paul, who is VP, board member and WWC Work Area Director at Broadband Forum, told Fierce that together these will allow fixed providers to begin exploiting a 5G toolkit including features like edge computing and network slicing that has hitherto either not been introduced or not made “as easily available to pure wireline core network or gateway functions to date.”

According to Paul, the advent of multi-access support means “now hybrid access is possible” for residential gateways. In plain English, that means they can connect to both wireline and wireless networks, with PON or DSL as options on the fixed side and 5G or LTE for mobile.

Multi-session support for FN-RGs is another big change. While this capability has been supported in the WWC specifications from day one for next-generation 5G-RGs, FN-RGs were previously limited to a single session. The update makes FN-RGs more powerful, allowing them to reach more than one domain and thus take advantage of capabilities like edge computing which are typically associated with 5G. So, for instance, if there were two users in a home with one gaming and the other surfing the web, the gateway could terminate the gaming session locally at the edge to meet latency needs and the less-sensitive browsing session elsewhere on the internet.

Telecom Italia’s Rosaria Persico, a principal Broadband Forum delegate, said in a statement the multi-session capabilities for FN-RGs “can be considered a foretaste of what will be possible with 5G-Residential Gateways” in the future.

While the Phase II updates are a step in the right direction and provide operators a path to begin the transition to a converged infrastructure, Paul noted there’s plenty more work to be done. For instance, Broadband Forum’s WWC work group is developing a reference design for 5G-RGs. And there are other security-related issues that need to be addressed to allow gateways to tap into the full spectrum of 5G capabilities.

“For the full 5G-RG capabilities there would be a hardware enablement for the secure identity and secure subscriber credential,” he explained. “Security for existing residential gateways comes through the network…The 5G core doesn’t have the concept of a fixed line, obviously so it works through mobile device identities. And these device identities are authenticated through what we all know [as] the SIM card…So that is what has to be brought into a 5G-capable gateway and then it does support the full set of mechanisms that can be run against the 5G core network.”